Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back Review
There are some films that one can write paragraphs of critical commentary on, either because they're masterpieces of the cinema such as, say, Citizen Kane or Vertigo, flawed but exceptionally interesting works by auteur directors such as Magnolia or A Bout de Souffle, or, last of all, howlingly awful examples of gross ineptitude where it becomes an amusing exercise in writing to simply outline why, exactly, it is an improbable plot development that a man like Michael Douglas will manage to marry a woman half his age...no, that's real life, cunningly blurring the line between fact and fiction yet again. However, rubbish like Shining Through or Speed 2 has no excuse. All this digression is merely an almost entirely irrelevant prologue to a simple piece of advice. If you have seen, and enjoyed, Kevin Smith's other films, you will like this, and the rest of the review will be devoted to how much you will like this. If you haven't, you will find this largely incomprehensible, a fact gleefully admitted by Smith on the commentary, even as he revels in lying to Miramax as to how the film will be 'accessible to a non-View Askew loving audience'.
However, as if inspired by such writers as Joyce, Milton and Chaucer, the script is a marvel of narrative ingenuity, with twists to make a nun blush...no, it's no good. The plot is essentially an extended in-joke, as Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) head off to Hollywood to stop the production of a film based on their alter egos Bluntman and Chronic, running into a gang of female jewel thieves led by Dushku and Elizabeth, and engaging in some mostly hilarious japes involving sex with men, women, animals and even some surprisingly witty jokes that have nothing to do with sex or bodily functions at all.
After the amusing but ultimately overblown Dogma, there's something heartening about Smith's complete return to deeply basic humour, as the man is a fantastic gag writer; he's been described as the Jersey Woody Allen, and there's a fair amount of similarity to Allen's cruder work, especially the uproarious Everything you ever wanted to know about sex..., but the film is also completely lacking the genuine heart of Chasing Amy. At first glance, this shouldn't be a problem, given that the film is little more than an extended skit built around two cartoonish characters. However, the similar Beavis and Butthead do America managed to make its characters (who literally were cartoons) strangely sympathetic, whereas it's hard to care about Jay and Silent Bob ultimately; they're very funny characters, but there's an absence of heart that means that the film lacks any depth at all.
Of course, with some utterly classic lines throughout, a fair argument is that depth is irrelevant in a film like this, given the presence of attractive women in leather catsuits as well as the other superb moments, and there's no denying that the film is best watched either drunk, stoned or simply in an enhanced state to appreciate Smith's Askewniverse, not that we at DVDTimes would ever advocate the purchase of illegal substances to enjoy a film, unless of course it happens to feature Mariah Carey or Barbra Streisand in a leading role. The performances are all fun, with Affleck and Damon especially uproarious in a scene where they parody themselves to hilarious effect in a spoof sequel 'Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season', and Mewes is actually serviceable as a leading man, even if his romance with Elizabeth is never even remotely believable. Great dumb fun, but let's hope that Smith's next film shows off his potential a bit more.
Amazingly, Smith's cinematic style has improved a fair bit here, meaning that there are long stretches where his direction is actually perfectly competent. The cinematography is thus served well by an excellent transfer, that presents colours clearly, without any evidence of grain or print damage. It's not the most amazing picture ever, but it's still a very sound effort from Miramax, who tend to maintain a high standard in their discs.
A 5.1 mix is provided, which is perfectly serviceable without ever being especially dynamic; surrounds are used discreetly, with some nice presentation of the dialogue and music, as well as some slightly surprising effects in the 'action scenes'. Not Saving Private Ryan, then, but the most dynamic soundtrack for a Kevin Smith film so far.
Smith is one of the few directors who can claim that he has recorded a commentary for every film he has made so far, and they normally tend to be hysterically funny affairs, with uproarious banter between Smith, Affleck and others. Unfortunately, Affleck is absent from the commentary here, which is a disappointment; however, Smith is his usual engaging self as he mocks the film's comparative failure at the box office, Mewes' failure to engage convincingly with women and, oh yes, his technical ineptitude. Fun stuff, all the same.
The next major extra is around 80 minutes of deleted scenes and introductions from Smith, his wife, Mewes, Mosier and Smith's daughter. Wildly variable in quality, they're probably best watched in several goes, rather than attempting to watch the lot at once, given that many of the scenes are extended versions of existing scenes, rather than actually deleted ones. A rather shorter gag reel is also quite funny, although there's a definite upper limit on how funny watching actors crack up actually is; much the same goes for 'The Secret Stash', a collection of short bits of improvisation from Will Ferrell, Judd Nelson and 'Ham Affleck'; all are fun enough, but Smith's writing is rather stronger.
A couple of entertaining featurettes are provided, one original and one from Comedy Central. Although nothing ground-breaking, there are some amusing bits of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a funny bit when, before the obligatory bit where the actors gush over Kevin Smith, a warning appears on screen reading 'Kevin Smith Love-in imminent', a nice touch of irreverence that fits nicely with the film's general tone. Other extras are a more conventional, albeit fairly exhaustive, collection of trailers, storyboards, stills, music videos (including the uproarious 'Because I Got High' by Afroman'), a short guide to 'Morris Day and the Time', who may or may not be of interest to the casual viewer but were a moderately successful 1980s band, and finally a truly vile Easter Egg, which can be located in Jason Mewes' filmmography if you're that way inclined.
A very entertaining comedy, although one likely to be of interest to Kevin Smith fans rather than the great unwashed, is presented on a disc with excellent technical quality and some exhaustive extras. Highly recommended for those who already own Smith's other films on DVD; others might want to acquaint themselves with the bizarre world of Jay and Silent Bob before proceeding further.